The Set of 400: #287 – My Favorite Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do

Today! Because our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world –

Stripes (1981)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Starring Bill Murray (x3), Harold Ramis (x2), John Candy (x5), Warren Oates (x2), Sean Young, John Larroquette (x3), P.J. Soles, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty (x2), Dave Thomas, Timothy Busfield (x2), Donald Gibb (x3), Bill Paxton (x3), Robert J. Wilke, William Lucking, Conrad Dunn, Antone Pagan

Stripes gathered up half the cast of SCTV, added Bill Murray, had them join the Army, and the whole thing worked. Okay, the first half of the movie is the more memorable one – the second half has them steal a tank and invade Czechoslovakia, sort of, so yeah, if you mostly just recall the basic training sequences, you’re excused. And that part of the movie is terrific, Murray’s John Winger butting heads with Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka, the misfit group getting in trouble and rebounding to pull it together, that great graduation drill. Also, as the only movie where Murray and Candy share any significant screen time, Stripes would’ve been significant no matter what. But thankfully it still holds up, for the most part, as these comedians in this era made rare missteps.

Great, messy times!

Candy, Flaherty, and Thomas were longtime cast members of the Canadian comedy show, with Ramis as original head writer and part-time actor (the lone import from Second City Chicago). This was in the original run of the show in the late ’70s, which had a slightly different combination of actors/writers than the SCTV Network 90 show on NBC in the early ’80s (which is what’s available on DVD, reusing a lot of earlier sketches) or the SCTV Channel show from Cinemax. But right between these iterations came Stripes, with Candy just breaking out in movies (having done Blues Brothers and 1941 before) and Ramis in his first big screen appearance. The great William Murray, of course, had already hit it big with Meatballs, Caddyshack, and his underrated take on Hunter Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam. 

Besides the somewhat lesser third act, the real issue with Stripes is more when it came out than anything. Being chronologically packaged between Caddyshack and Ghostbusters tends to get this one overlooked. I didn’t see Stripes until I was in college, I want to say, and I was pretty avidly hunting down Murray/Ramis stuff even as a kid. I’ve seen What About Bob? like two dozen times (it doesn’t make the list, even though it’s fairly solid), but Stripes was strangely elusive for a long time. Why? Was Army/war satire sorta passe in the early ’90s, what with Operation Desert Storm and all the nationalist nonsense surrounding it? Look, I enjoyed the first Gulf War as much as any eleven-year-old, but the decades of perspective haven’t enhanced its general appeal much. So, maybe it was that?

I’m not saying I didn’t tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree or anything

Zero awards for Stripes can easily be remedied with Best Mainstream Intersexual Mud Wrestling, when Candy’s Ox takes on a gaggle of female grapplers. Classic!

And even though we’re inducting a bunch of new Three-Timers – Murray (#319 Darjeeling Limited, #328 Man Who Knew Too Little), Larroquette (#357 JFK, #331 Twilight Zone: The Movie), the surprisingly everywhere Donald Gibb (#334 Lost in America, #361 Bloodsport), and a cameoing Bill Paxton (#296 Titanic, #306 Tombstone) – and four Two-Timers – Ramis (#372 Walk Hard), Busfield (#378 Sneakers), Flaherty (#344), and Oates (#294 1941) – it’s the occasion of our first Five-Timer to grab the spotlight today. Will John Candy end up in the most films on this list? I honestly don’t know, I’m tracking this in order as we go. Maybe, I suppose. Stripes now follows 1941, JFK, #326 Delirious, and #373 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – I know he’s in a few still to come, but who will end up atop the heap by #1 next September? Submit your guesses and stay tuned! Or don’t!

Nothing But Trouble did not make the list, despite the epic Digital Underground guest shot

Coming tomorrow! Did you just refer to yourself in the fourth person?

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